Bits and Bytes: Childhood games come back for new generation

Video game columnist Brendan Wray on edutainment and the "Cluefinders."

The other night I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came upon a tweet from The Maneater's managing editor, Pat Iversen. He tweeted about the single most influential game of my childhood: "Cluefinders."

For those who didn't frequent the book fairs during their time in elementary school, "Cluefinders" was a series of "edutainment" -- games meant for children to learn things like math or English. Before I go back to the superiority of "Cluefinders," I need to show off my knowledge of edutainment.

In the '90s and early 2000s, computer games designed for children were rampant. I can remember going to Office Depot with my mom after a day at my elementary and there being an entire aisle of edutainment games for computers. Before I was able to hold a controller and actually be on the same level with my brother or cousins, I was flying through edutainment like "Carmen Sandiego," "Math Blaster," and of course, "Cluefinders."

I would be lying to the world if I didn't say that these games were my childhood drug. It might just be that nostalgia is rushing through my veins, but these games that offered distractions from simple puzzles to full on pattern recognition were amazing.

To put it into perspective, "Cluefinders" offered games recommended for third graders all the way to sixth graders. I started and finished playing all the games in second grade. From both my teachers' and parents' perspectives, I was a genius.

For this reason alone, edutainment was amazing because it fools other people into thinking you were some descendant from Newton or Einstein. To say I played these games to learn about addition or pattern recognition is false; I played these games because they were genuinely fun.

Back to "Cluefinders," the series focused on a group of teenage investigators, akin to Scooby-Doo, solving mysteries involving mostly secret and ancient civilizations. In other words, "Cluefinders" was exactly what a second grade boy needed: adventure.

Despite being geared toward elementary-aged children, edutainment games almost always featured a plot that I could whole-heartedly get behind. Yes, I wanted to help capture Carmen Sandiego before she somehow stole another pyramid or sphinx. Yes, I also wanted to help unearth an ancient civilization. Edutainment, despite having knowledge as its first priority, offered some absolutely great motivation for learning.

What I'm grateful for is the fact that these edutainment staples are returning for another generation. On the Mac App Store, the "Cluefinders" series has returned to glory. With the iPad, some of my childhood point-and-click games are being converted for the tech savvy children of today to play.

I can think of no better influence for children than these games. This is my word of advice for everybody looking to have children in the future: before you buy a "Wii360" or whatever's popular at the time, download these games.

Now, I'm not saying that college students should wise up now and play "Cluefinders" in between biology and poli sci (although if you do, you have my eternal respect). Odds are that learning simple arithmetic won't help you out, but if you're an aunt or uncle to some young kids, do their parents a favor and get them these games. I might actually have hope for the next generation of kids if they have some exposure to "Cluefinders" instead of whatever terrible show is on the Disney Channel right now.

I can't be absolutely sure that playing these games incessantly as a child overall helped me in any shape or form academically, but do I regret burning my retinas at a computer screen in the second grade? Not a bit.

"Cluefinders" and the rest of my edutainment addiction as a child helped start my interest in gaming in general. Where I am unsure if I actually learned anything from edutainment, I can be absolutely sure that without it, I wouldn't have anywhere near the amount of love for games as I do now. So let's all do the world a favor and buy the children in our lives some quality edutainment.

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